Tag Archives: writers

The Best Author Interview – Todd Keisling

Maybe I’ve been wrong all these years and my talent is not in writing, but in interviews. Nevertheless, author Todd Keisling responds to my inquiries about his writing process, and his new book, A Life Transparent, which I fucking loved.

The characters in ALT seem familiar to me. Even the Yawnings. It was eerily familiar as I read it. Why do you think that is?

I wanted the characters to be as real as possible. They’re people to whom the reader can relate in some way. I think we’ve all been in Donovan’s shoes at some point, stuck in a dead end job, wondering if that’s all there is to life. We’ve encountered people like Donovan’s co-workers. We know someone like Donovan’s brother, Michael, or Donovan’s wife, Donna. They’re the people who are living the lives they want to live, or yearn for something more but feel they’re being held back by a significant other. I tried to identify certain archetype figures and incorporate them into the story via these characters.

To me, the story’s pseudo-villain, Aleister Dullington, represents that nagging voice in the back of our minds, reminding us of our action’s consequences, pushing us in one direction even if we’re resistant to it. Even his minions, the Yawning, are manifestations of the way in which our boredom and mediocrity can consume us, thereby defining our lives for us.

I’d like to think those connections came through in the text in a subtle manner, and that what people find so unsettling or eerie about the story is their subconscious connection these things.

I realize that’s probably a convoluted, pretentious answer, but for now I’ll stick to it.

I’ll take it. You had a rough time with your first self-publishing printer. Did you take an opportunity to take another look at the writing in your novel before you republished it anew, with a professional editor?

I’ll preface this by saying my experiences with certain self-publishing outlets were my own. Your mileage may vary.

That said, yes, I did have a rough time. The book was initially published through Lulu back in 2007. Though getting set up in their system and securing distribution wasn’t expensive, procuring copies of the book was overpriced. Toward the end of my time with Lulu, I found it cheaper to buy the book from Amazon and pay my own royalty than to order directly from Lulu with the author discount.

That is completely fucked up. I wish more people knew about that kind of experience, and that there are alternatives. Go on.

In late 2009, while working on the follow-up novel, I decided to look at CreateSpace as an alternate solution. Around May of 2010, I finally started that transition process, and it turned into a huge mistake. There were a number of quality issues that led me to sever that relationship and pull the plug.

Kickstarter afforded me an opportunity to hire an editor and revise the book. I wanted to make a definitive edition, something that would be as high quality as I could make it. My editor made her first pass over the manuscript, after which I took her comments and rewrote the novel during a period of about two months. The end result was a slightly shorter, tighter work. It went from approximately 60k words to about 53k words. The story remained the same, but new scenes were added to flesh out the characters, and minor details were altered to better suit a lead-up to the sequel.

Looking back, I’m glad my editor and I spent that extra time with the book. It needed it (the manuscript was over 4 years old), and the end result is far superior to the original.

Kickstarter is a huge part of your renewed publishing effort. How did you set your budget for what your objectives were, and did you have a backup plan in case the funding didn’t come through?

The Kickstarter project saved the book. When things fell through with CreateSpace, I really didn’t know what else to do. My only other options were vanity companies like Author House and Xlibris (which seem like a total rip-off), and going to an offset printer (which is very expensive, and wouldn’t provide the distribution I needed).

So, you could say Kickstarter was the backup plan. If my project proposal hadn’t been approved, or if the project hadn’t earned out, ALT probably wouldn’t be available today.

I calculated the project budget by obtaining a fee schedule from Lightning Source. Then it was just a matter of doing some rough math. First I figured out how much the approximate product cost for each book would be (paperback vs. hardcover). Then I used that info to pick appropriate pledge tiers ($5, $15, $25, etc.) and the rewards associated with each. I settled on a total goal of $2000. That would be enough to pay the setup fees, editing rate, ISBN blocks, digital layout, and shipping & handling. I’m fortunate to be married to a graphic designer who knows her way around Photoshop and InDesign, so that wasn’t figured into the cost.

In hindsight, I probably should have gone for $3k. Midway through the project, I decided to go a step further and set up my own publishing house. The business fees ate into the funds. My shipping estimates for international rewards were also low. In the end, I had to go out of pocket
by a few hundred dollars. I will say that, had I not had to pay the setup costs associated with the
business side of things, everything would’ve come down to the penny from the Kickstarter funds.

What an experience! So many of us just skip the funding part, and then realize that we get out of it what we put into it.

What are you working on next?

The next book is a direct sequel to ALT. It’s called THE LIMINAL MAN, and it takes place about a year after the events of the first book. Currently, the manuscript is with my editor as she makes her first pass. We hope to go to print early next year.

2 Comments

Filed under author interview, blog tour, essay, Uncategorized

Are You Scrooge McDuck?

Scrooge McDuck couldn’t get enough of what he thought he wanted.

He was never happy with what he had.

No matter how much money and things he collected, he always wanted more.

Sound familiar?

Even if you’re not a materialistic, greedy bastard, you want more from your writing career. But what’s so bad about that? It’s ambitious, right? For some, we want our writing to be our career, and so ambition and wanting more is a catalyst for that success we envision.

Writing makes me happy. I am likely not talented enough to see my writing rise above most other independent writers’ work and so I must accept that the term career does not signify the end of my day job. So logically, my objective then is to write for my own sanity, and when I choose to make it public, the bonus feature is to receive accolades and critique from other trusted peers–writers, friends, strangers–who take the time to read my work.

So that should be enough, right? RIGHT?

Sometimes I feel like Scrooge McDuck, who always wants more out of the words I put on paper. I struggle as the victim of the competitive spirit of the little industrious writing community, even despite my fiercely independent status. I want to earn more fans and readers. I want people to love my work and discuss it. I want Focus Features to come knocking to make films of my stories.

And then I feel shame. I should be pleased and content with having the ability to write what I can.

Oh fuck that.

1 Comment

Filed under commentary, essay

Attention

What kind of attention do you want, as a writer?

Your first instinct, if you’re someone I hang around with, is to say you’d like any and all attention, just to get your writing some visibility. You are so confident in your work (hopefully) that you are anxious, eager, and bursting at the seams to get more eyeballs on your work.

You are willing to throw it all in for that attention. You’ve blogged exhaustively. You’ve been nice to people you don’t know and don’t so much care about all over the internet. Your Twitter life is overtaking your own, all for the sake of gaining fans, followers, readers.

You are reading every piece of shit and every mark of brilliance you can get your hands on so that you can raise your own bar for your work product. The book review process is painful for you, with little feedback or responses. You feel like you’ve built the only platform you can, but…

You admittedly whore yourself all over the blogosphere, commenting everywhere and trying tactfully to get your plug in wherever you can.

You hang on opportunities to get a  reading, or a mention on some notorious blog.

You study those stats, analyze the analytics, and query to death your traffic. You’re doing everything you can, in between your day  job, your kids, your mortgage, your in-laws, and the goddamned lawn that needs to be mowed. Fuck.

So here comes an opportunity, you think, to really blow yourself out of the water. To really shine. You need something because everyone around you is raising that bar, doing video book trailers and podcasts, and selling just a few more through the Amazon threads (or so they say), than you are.

And you are better. You know what will bring attention to you. You didn’t want to talk about politics, or religion, or baby-killers, whatever the hell it will take to bring attention to yourself, just to get more eyes on your work. But then all of a sudden, you think, maybe being shameless isn’t as shameless as it may seem. Everyone else is doing their thing, why are you keeping to the book and maintaining all of the integrity that you feel may be the one thing holding you back?

So you go ahead and make that post or you label yourself in such a way that, well, labels you. You lay it all out.

Have you LOST YOUR FUCKING MIND?

Not necessarily, but you’ve lost yourself. You lost your objective. What is your objective? You are an independent writer. You need to be proud of your work and the few readers who do appreciate your writing and art. Not that you shouldn’t aim higher because you always should. But just leave it at that, will you?

Indie writers are surrounded by exponentially-expanding ranks of competition for a diminishing group of readers. There are enormous opportunities, but you have to love what you’re doing because you love writing and talking about writing and reading about writing and arguing about writing to feel any glory. Or else you really have lost your integrity.

And so then what the fuck are you doing if you have no integrity?

10 Comments

Filed under commentary, essay, Uncategorized

This Is Not About Sports. Ok, It Kind Of Is.

I was listening to Boomer & Carton on WFAN (New York area sports talk radio for those outside my universe) yesterday morning on my horrendous drive to work and they were discussing the sorry state of the Mets. (Always glad I’m a Yankee fan.) On just about every show, there is just one itty-bitty item that sets off Boomer Esiason that you would never expect, and he gets all heated and passionate, and then they move onto the next thing. Yesterday, at about 6:15am, Boomer went on a tirade against the Mets pitcher Oliver Perez accusing him of not having the mental gumption to get through a competitive game. He said that Perez just didn’t have the competitive spirit–the backbone of sports–that major league baseball requires to be successful.

While I was zoning out and waiting for the talking heads to get to a real baseball team with prospects for a successful future (e.g., the Yankees), I perked up when I heard Boomer articulate his thoughts on this pitcher.  I couldn’t help but get drawn in to what was not only a message from one very successful former professional athlete to a struggling pro, but the debate about Perez’s fundamental talent versus his competitive spirit, and psychological make-up of someone facing enormous public pressure.

And so there it is, my proposed baseball analogy that you all know and love about me. Some will have stopped reading already, but I do contend that perhaps we should be having a parallel debate about how come some writers just don’t succeed despite their talent. It’s been very easy lately to paint those writers as fundamentally flawed if they can’t market themselves and leverage technology–independent or not. While that is true to a certain extent, the notion of competitive spirit is something we don’t hear much about in the independent writing community. Many of us are indeed talented, many are not, and yet the success rate doesn’t necessarily reflect those proportions respectively.

So what does having the gumption to bear enormous pain (rejections), adversity (bad reviews), dealing with a weak link in the team (lack of publishing support), and come out of it a better athlete (writer) mean? It means coming out fighting and focused on prevailing. Setting your objective to W-I-N and never faltering is how professional athletes continue on despite injuries, losing streaks, and media-bashing. So then we writers have a few lessons to learn about channeling our mental energy when preparing to launch our work into the world. When I used to train as a boxer, my trainer would keep telling me, “Don’t be afraid of failure, you have to go all the way.” I didn’t understand what he was saying. I only learned what it meant when I met people who indeed never took a step ahead because they were petrified of failing, so they stayed still. Static.

As Lefsetz says (geez, I never quote that guy…thanks, Mike Cane), half-assing it will never get you anywhere.

Well, fuck, man, I have a day job, car payments, debt, school loans, and most importantly, two amazing beautiful little kids to support. I am implicitly half-assing my writing “career”, and so what do I expect–a 5-picture deal from MGM to adapt my stories to the screen? Hell no. Ain’t going to happen. Writing is not the lottery.

It’s not that I don’t have the competitive gumption. I’m not even giving myself the opportunity to effectively compete because of the obstacles I’ve set up for myself. If I really, REALLY wanted to be a widely-read author, I’d quit my dayjob, sell the house, learn to love eating cat food, take my kids out of their school and put them in the public system along with the meth addicts here in my town, and write 10 hours a day. For 10 years. And eat cat food. And go out every weekend to force myself into readings EVERYFUCKINGWHERE. I’d be writing up and down everywhere for every magazine, journal, and internetz blog I could get access to.

I’m not doing that. Are you?

8 Comments

Filed under commentary, Uncategorized

On Amateur Book Reviews

This isn’t a case of an author getting even with a shitty book review[er]. True, I got a shitty book review recently, but I really have no comments about that. It was a little weird, a misguided, but if that’s what the particular reader took away from it, then I can’t criticize.

Oh, wait, aren’t we all critics?

We keep hearing about “quality control” issues with independently published works. The shitty writing, the inconsistent editing, the flat-out embarrassing typos, the clumsiness of writers going it alone.

What about quality control issues with the flurry of book reviewers? Hey, it’s a democratic platforms we’re promulgating here, so even the best book with the tightest editing and production quality–published independently or not–is up for review by any of the thousands of amateur book reviewers. I’ve seen some of the most appallingly half-assed book reviews recently. Comments like, “Why can’t this author make characters that are believable. Real vampires would never say things like that…” and “I didn’t even bother finishing it since I figured out the ending in the first chapter.” Really? REALLY? Why the fuck are you writing a review, then, asshole? Read the fucking book, that’s what a book reviewer does.

Listen, we asked for democracy and we got it. But are there no guidelines? Apparently not, because amateur book reviewers are in it for pure glory–there are no incentives for them to be responsible, other than, well, um, ETHICS, but let’s leave that alone for now.

We want as many people reading books as possible. The only solid, consistent way for new and independently produced books to gain visibility is by word-of-mouth, which is effectively amateur book reviewers on their forums and blogs: we don’t want to shut any of that out. But just like with marketing our independent books (on those ferkakte author-review websites), we have to manage to weed out the noisy barkers and find the quality feedback.

My solution is to call amateur book reviews Feedback. Or something to that effect. If we’re getting people who admittedly haven’t even completed the book calling it a book review, something is very wrong with the semantics. As much as I would like to criticize those types of “reviews,” we can discredit the legitimacy of stupid reviews by taking them out of the review category and calling it feedback, which is what it is.

If someone reads a book that is way over their head; or they just didn’t take the time to contemplate the experimental value of a work, and they call it stupid or bad or ugly or meaningless, it’s not really a review, is it? How can we put that person in the same category as some of the world’s brilliant minds of literary criticism? Roland Barthes, Northrop Frye, Jacques Lacan, Levi-Strauss, de Saussure…and the rest of the gang of structuralists would be incensed to be put in the same category as “CheekyMama” on all those threads who just loves vampire romances but who refuses to read a book without a photo of the author on the flap.

Go ahead, call me an elitist hypocrite. I dare you.

9 Comments

Filed under commentary, essay